FARGO — The Fargodome would have been rocking Saturday night, June 13, as Elton John was scheduled to return for the first time in over a decade.
That was before the coronavirus outbreak turned the world upside down and with it brought the concert industry to a screeching halt. John’s "Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour" was one of five major concerts planned this spring or summer at the Fargodome that have now been postponed.
The industrywide freeze on concerts has left fans across the country not only having their plans pulled out from under them, but many are now left holding tickets and not knowing when the shows will happen — and, in some cases, unable to get their money back.
If the shows were canceled, ticket holders would get a refund, but since most of the concerts planned are postponed, getting money back is more of a process.
“What’s important to know is that all of the shows aren’t the same promoter,” says Rob Sobolik, general manager at the Fargodome.
For example, it was announced in late April that Elton John’s tour, promoted by AEG Presents, would be postponed and new dates would be announced later. Fans were urged to keep their tickets, which would be honored for the new dates. On June 3, a statement was released that, while the tour hadn’t been rescheduled yet, ticket purchasers would have one month to get a refund, or they'd have to keep their tickets.
"I fully understand the hardships many are feeling during these unprecedented times and we are providing a 30-day window for refunds starting Wednesday, June 3rd for those in need,” John said in the statement.
In May, the Maroon 5 show scheduled for Aug. 8 and the Guns N’ Roses show scheduled for Aug. 23 were both postponed. Those tours are both presented by Live Nation, whose policy is to wait until the new dates are announced to offer refunds. However, if new dates aren’t announced within 60 days of the postponement being announced, a 30-day window allowing refunds will open.
Live Nation also is behind the Cher concert at the Fargodome, originally scheduled for April 11. The new date, Sept. 26, was announced on May 1, kicking off a 30-day window for refunds that has already passed.
The MercyMe concert scheduled for April 5 was pushed back to Nov. 15 in mid-March. That show’s promoters are the Christian radio station Life 97.9 and Thrivent Financial, and refunds are available at the point of purchase.
“We’re just asking for patience,” Sobolik says, who says he’s heard a range of responses from ticket holders, from understanding to angry. “I tend to be a control freak and you can’t control much. It’s a challenge to wrap my head around this,” he says.
Fargo promoter Jade Presents, which books shows at Moorhead's Bluestem Amphitheater and the Fargo Theatre and Sanctuary Events Center, among other spaces, in Fargo, has also seen many of its scheduled shows postponed due to the coronavirus, like the Alabama concert at Bluestem scheduled for June 6.
Announcing that the rescheduled date would likely be in early summer of 2021, the company last week took the novel approach of offering refunds in the form of Jade Presents gift cards at 110 percent of the ticket price for the postponed Alabama concert. The gift cards could be used for other Jade Presents events. Fargo Brewing Co., which includes Jade Presents founder Jade Nielsen as a part-owner, is also throwing in a free pint. Ticket holders could also exchange tickets for admission to other Jade Presents shows.
The company had announced a similar approach when two shows scheduled for Fargo Brewing, 311 and Ben Harper, were canceled in mid-May. By June 2, about 60 percent of those with tickets took the gift card option over cash back.
Nielsen sees the arrangement as a way for concertgoers to help support the concerts they want to see.
“We’re investing in this community in a lot of ways and I feel like it’s done in return,” he says. “What we do improves the lifestyle and entertainment opportunities in this community. We’ve added to that and others have as well. It’s an investment on our part and on the patron’s part... It’s kind of touched me in a way that so many people believe what we do.”
He knows people might ask why Jade Presents can’t just refund all of the tickets. The answer, he says, is that money is going to keeping his staff employed, making payments on their office space and other operational costs, especially with no income in three months.
“For us, we are a small business,” Nielsen says. “We want to be here tomorrow. If we could refund all of 2020 and start over, I don’t think we’d be here tomorrow.”